Alastair ClementsSee other caravan reviews written by Alastair Clements
It's cool and really rather clever, but can the radical Swift Basecamp succeed in its mission to attract fresh blood to the touring lifestyle? Read on!
Funky, eh? Take a close look at this eye-catching newcomer. Remove the badges, and where would you say it was built? Germany, perhaps, by free-thinking Knaus – or maybe Holland, as a big brother to the super-light, super-practical Kip Shelter?
The chunky Basecamp has been designed not for you, if you’re a regular reader of Practical Caravan. Although plenty of existing caravanners will be tempted by it, it has been made for the kind of people who might not have previously considered a caravan.
If the brochure is to be believed, we’re talking mountain-bikers, surfers, canoeists and the like. Although we’re inclined to think it’s going to appeal to the kind of people who fancy upgrading from a tent, and want something a bit more reliable than a classic campervan.
Swift calls it a ‘CCV’, or Crossover Camping Vehicle, and it’s certainly occupying new territory for a British brand, though we have seen similar offerings before from Europe.
The headline price is £15,395, but we tested the Basecamp Plus – the model that Swift expects most buyers to go for – which costs another £545 and adds a solar panel (a must for wild camping), an external 230V socket, a gas barbecue point, an external shower, a door flyscreen and, inside, an oven and grill, a TV aerial and a lockable TV bracket.
And to see other Swift caravans for sale, click here.
Pitching and setting up
The final must-have addition is an awning. And not just any awning but the ‘Swift RVR-1’. It’s a bespoke Airbeam item by Vango that costs £795 and doubles the floor area of the van.
Once the beading has been threaded along the rear wall of the Swift Basecamp, three long, curving main beams are inflated via AirSpeed valves, plus two doorway beams and four cross-braces. The finished awning has a groundsheet, two entrances and four windows with zip-in covers, making a huge outdoor ‘room’ for the compact Swift.
Returning to the caravan itself, the Basecamp sits on a conventional Al-Ko galvanised steel chassis, whose width is concealed by graphite-coloured side skirts – but the game is rather given away by the conventional A-frame, albeit lacking the usual AKS stabiliser.
There are cutouts in the sides and rear wall to give good access to the steady winders, and the steadies themselves have neat pivoting bases to allow for uneven surfaces.
Despite its unconventional looks, the Basecamp has all the features of a ‘grown-up’ Swift. That means all-GRP Smart Plus construction and a Whale underslung heater combining to give Grade 3 thermal performance – just the thing if you fancy camping out halfway up a mountain.
Oh, and if you get lost on that mountain, or just want to make sure it’s warm when you get back, the standard Swift Command system means you can turn on the heating or lights remotely, and locate the van via GPS, using a free-to-download smartphone app.
Despite all of that it’s relatively light. The MiRO of the standard van is 879kg and the Plus is 904kg, so you’re not going to need a hulking great tow car, either.
Although it’s not a huge caravan, the 6ft 5in headroom and big, opening panoramic front window combine to give a great sense of space – and that window also makes the most of a view for intrepid adventurers.
Concertina blinds on all windows mean that the world can be shut out at night, when you can relax on those long, long sofas and catch up on your favourite programmes – there’s a TV mount and all the relevant connections on the offside wall.
If you’re feeling sociable, those sofas are lengthy enough to squeeze four onto either side, although you’ll soon overwhelm the small fold-up coffee table (with its delightful cast-aluminium supports) and will need to retrieve the freestanding unit from the wardrobe.
There’s a three-burner hob with a splatter guard, a separate oven and grill, and an 85-litre Dometic fridge/freezer. The large sink is set into a long expanse of classy black ‘Fenix’ worktop, with a pop-up tower of three 230V sockets (of a total of five). Beneath that, you’ll find four cupboards and a cutlery drawer, along with a couple of lockers overhead.
Of course, chances are that in summer many will abandon this area entirely in favour of the external gas barbecue point!
It also has all the kit you could need, with a proper separate shower on a riser bar, fitted with a water-saving EcoCamel Orbit showerhead. The floor is a shower tray, and there’s a curtain to keep the rest of the room dry.
Beneath the small bathroom cabinet there’s a Thetford electric-flush bench toilet, with a good-sized sink opposite and a mirror.
And if you don’t want to traipse mud into the caravan, or you need to hose off grubby dogs or filthy bikes, there’s an external shower point on the offside wall.
The sofas can be used as single beds, measuring 6ft x 2ft 3in and featuring neat little individual padded headboards on either side.
Alternatively, fold out the bed-frame extensions and it can be turned into a whopping 6ft 6in x 6ft double bed that takes up the whole front of the van. It’s worth mentioning that this bed is easily large enough to share with a young child, so the van will grow with you as you have a family – and as the kids get bigger they can camp in the awning!
There’s a clever bookshelf integrated into the end of the kitchen unit, with one 230V socket and two USB points. But it’s frustrating that there is only one reading light on each side – and it’s in the centre, so not ideal for single- or double-bed users.
As a result, the standard payload is a relatively slender 111kg whichever model you choose. Pack your Basecamp with a couple of bikes and a few weeks’ worth of adventuring gear and you might start to trouble that figure, but fortunately a weight-plate upgrade is available to 1100kg, giving a 196kg payload for the Plus and 221kg for the standard model.
Making the most of that is easy thanks to the Swift’s practical design. The rear door is wide, with a low sill, and the sofas can be folded up and strapped to the wall, revealing lashing eyes in the floor to stop your gear sliding around. And of course, once you arrive at Mother Nature’s playground you can use your awning to store all of your toys.
There’s further innovation in the design of the overhead storage in the lounge. Instead of lockers there are removable canvas bags – ideal for use on shopping trips, or to pack at home then just slot in place to speed up your departure. And with zipped fronts, they can be used in situ.
There’s a small wardrobe on the offside of the van, offering limited hanging space, and a cubbyhole is thoughtfully provided beside the door for your keys and valuables.
Up front, the gas locker looks generous at first sight, but in fact has room inside for little more than the spare wheel and a couple of gas bottles.
We really like the Swift Basecamp and applaud its invention and cheerful persona. However, opt for a Basecamp Plus and add in those vital extras, and it will set you back over £18,000 on the road.
Even with an appealing PCP deal that’s a lot of cash for such a compact caravan. We just hope that there’s a stripped-out, ultra-basic, bargain-basement ‘Basecamp Light’ in the pipeline, because that’s a van that we can see tent-campers really getting excited about.
- Its chunky, funky looks
- The brilliant awning
- The flexible, innovative design and use of space
- Its high kit levels
- It's expensive for a van of this size
- The standard payload is meagre
- Is it a little too comfortable for some, perhaps?